Button bands and button holes masterclass

Create perfect buttonholes, part 1

Many knitters find it tricky to get button bands and holes just right, but it doesn’t have to be this way! Here are Rosee Woodland's top tips

12th June 2018

How many times have you been proudly finishing off a beautiful cardigan only to realise the buttonholes are slightly askew or a little on the looser side? Well, no more! Find out how to perfectly position your buttonholes and pick the best one for your chosen buttons. After all, it’s those finishing touches that make all the difference to a professional-looking knit!

In part one of our masterclass, Rosee Woodland shares her tips on picking up stitches and placing buttons and buttonholes.

Picking up stitches for button bands

Firstly, you would usually use a smaller needle size for your button band, to stop stitches ‘flaring out’ and looking a little bit messy.

Your pattern may tell you how many stitches to pick up for your button band, or it may give a simpler instruction, such as picking up three stitches for every four rows.

There’s nothing wrong with these methods in finer yarns, but in chunky yarns you can get noticeable gaps and there are alternatives, as follows.

For stocking stitch garments with ribbed or garter stitch bands

Using a needle size one size smaller than the recommended ball band size for the button band, and with the RS facing, pick up and knit a stitch for EVERY single row. You will now have a higher than needed number of stitches than the pattern recommends and if you keep working with this higher number of stitches the button band will start to flare out, so you need to get rid of them, pronto!

Count the number of stitches you’ve picked up, then grab a calculator, and multiply that number by 0.75. This will remove a quarter of your stitches.

This number may end up being a fraction, so aim for the nearest whole number you can. Choose an even number for a 2 x 2 rib band, and an odd number for a 1 x 1 rib band.

You can then reduce a quarter of your stitches easily by working (K2, k2tog) all the way along your next row with the WS facing. However, unless your initial every-stitch pick-up was a multiple of four, you will have a few stitches left over. Use these leftover stitches to make any final decreases you need to get to your perfect stitch count.

Working this one decreasing WS row as a knit row and the next RS row as a purl row will give you two rows of rev st st, which makes a nice ridged transition before starting your button band ‘properly’ on the next WS row.

Alternatively you can work a single decreasing WS row as a knit row and then start your button band as written in the pattern, from the RS of the work.

Don’t forget to change to the recommended button band needle size at this point!

Picking up stitches

For garter stitch garment body and button bands

Using the needle size recommended for the button band, pick up and knit in every dip between the garter ridges, which will work out as one stitch for every two rows.

You can create an even neater look by slipping the first stitch of every row when making your front garment pieces. Pick up and knit into the back half of this slipped stitch when starting your button band. This creates another ‘transition’ line between the front pieces and the button band, again giving a more defined look.

Picking up stitches

For other stitch patterns

For other stitch patterns it’s worth following the stocking stitch method, and decreasing to the correct stitch count to fit in with the pattern repeat on your initial decrease row.

This may require a bit of maths (that’s what calculators are for though!) but it will look much neater than struggling to pick up an uneven ratio of stitches to rows in order to achieve the right stitch count for your pattern repeat.

Placing buttons and buttonholes

Knitting is stretchy. This is great when you’re trying to pull a jumper over your head, but not so great when your buttons look ‘floppy’ or your buttonholes gape.

Go off-centre

If you place your buttonholes in the centre of the button band (say, row 7 of 13 or 14 rows), as the buttons pull at the buttonholes you will end up with buttons that look like they are sitting on the very edge of your button band.

Instead, work your buttonholes two rows earlier (one row on very chunky yarn). This means the buttonholes will actually appear centred when they are stretched out by the buttons.

If your button band is ‘grown on’ – i.e. worked at the same time as the front of the garment, again, consider moving the buttonholes a stitch or two inwards, away from the front edges, for the same reason.

Be firm about it

To stop your buttons from looking floppy there are ways you can stabilise them.

When sewing on large buttons, you can sew a small, flat button on the reverse of each one to give the larger buttons more structure.

You can stabilise your button band as well as the actual buttons. Stitch a length of grosgrain ribbon onto the back of the button band to prevent it from stretching out. You can do the same on the buttonhole band, but remember to make slits in the ribbon for your buttons to go through! Edge these by using buttonhole stitch and a sewing needle and matching thread.

Right place, right time

When making your button band you’ll often work it in one piece, from one bottom edge up to the neck and down to the other bottom edge of the front of your garment.

Sometimes, you might make the button band and buttonhole band separately and join them at the back neck.

Either way, make sure you mark your button placement at the same time as you make your buttonholes. That way you can be sure exactly where they should go, rather than trying to work it out later and ending up with a wonky finish.

Mark your button placement with lockable stitch markers or lengths of contrasting waste yarn, placing them through the relevant stitch for each button placement.

When it comes time to remove them and sew on your buttons, make a small X with contrasting yarn, centred on the stitch you marked, to show you precisely where the button will sit. That way you won’t end up with buttons that are out of alignment with the matching button band.

Placing buttons

For more about button bands and buttonholes, see Part Two of our masterclass.


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